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New bill introduced to open up SE mines

Murkowski proposes roads to Niblack and Bokan mountain

Posted: February 4, 2013 - 1:02am
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Sen. Lisa Murkowski has introduced a bill that aims to open up jobs to locals at certain Southeast mines.

Sen. Murkowski announced Wednesday that she had introduced new legislation to allow for 18 miles of road through a roadless area on Prince of Wales to the Niblack and Bokan Mountain heavy metal mines. The legislation is expected to be similar to Senate Bill S. 3330 Murkowski introduce in June of 2012 called the Niblack Mining Area Road Authorization Act.

Niblack mine is located near the Niblack Anchorage on Prince of Wales Island, 30 miles southwest of Ketchikan. It is a copper, zinc, gold and silver prospect.

Bokan Mountain, owned by Ucore Rare Metals, is a retired Uranium mine on the southern end of Prince of Wales Island between the South Arm of Moira Sound and the West Arm of Kendrick Bay. The 19-square-mile project is being prospected for heavy rare earth elements.

Rare earth metals are used in advanced technology and renewable energy technology such as electric cars, wind turbines and liquid crystal display televisions.

The timing of the bill comes as both mines finish economic feasibility studies and decide whether to proceed with development, a Murkowski spokesperson said in an email interview. Moving forward would kick off an 18-month environmental impact statement process followed by a one- to two-year construction process, he said.

“The mines could open within four years,” the spokesperson said.

The project calls for 26 miles of road to the Niblack Mine - 18 miles of which would be through roadless area. Another 50 miles of road would be punched to the Bokan Mountain mineral deposits.

“Without this legislation, workers would likely have to travel to Ketchikan and then take a boat across often dangerous waters to the reach the mine sites,” According to a recent Murkowski press release.

Murkowski said opening up access to the mines by road would allow local mine workers to commute home daily.

“It is vital that the mines know if they can hire local Prince of Wales Island residents before they prepare to open,” the spokesperson said. “Otherwise they likely will solely hire Ketchikan-based workers.”

The unemployment rate in Craig, Klawock and Hydaburg is higher than in Ketchikan

“So it would make sense that … residents have a chance to safely get to jobs at the mines,” Murkowski’s spokesperson said. “Rather than being required to make it to Ketchikan in order to be able to take a day boat back to the mines for work.”

Mike Satre, Executive Director of the Council of Alaska Producers, said he agreed the roads would give the advantage of incentivizing local hire.

Roads would allow “POW residents a simple commute to work rather than relying solely on boat access and on-site camp facilities,” Satre said. “Hiring and retaining a local work force is much easier when workers can be home after every shift,” Satre said.

Bob Claus, outreach coordinator with the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, said Murkowski’s legislation was unnecessary as road building to these mines is “already provided for as an exception.”

Murkowski is also getting ahead of the mines, Claus said.

“The mines are not permitted yet, much less up and running,” Claus said. “There is considerable speculation about when or if these projects might come into production.”

Claus also said marine access to the mines is more efficient and would not be subject to closure in the winter months.

“…similar roads on Prince of Wales Island close for four or five months of the year due to snow load and a lack of maintenance funding,” Claus said.

• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at russell.stigall@juneauempire.com.

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